ANN ARBOR (DETROIT FREE PRESS) - Even in early January, Michigan is still exploring.
The Wolverines grabbed their second win of Big Ten season today, 74-51, over Northwestern at Crisler Center, but the marginwas tenuous for much longer than they would like against a team devoid of offense.
With 12 minutes remaining in the game, U-M led, 43-35, and were settling at the Wildcats' lowly level.
So as they went to the media time-out with 11:48CQ left, U-M coach John Beilein challenged his players.
He figured they'd win, having shown enough to that point. But how they did it was important.
"Coach B, he said our energy (lacked), that we looked too tired," U-M center Jon Horford explained. "He's like, 'You guys want to be a good team, show me. Pick up the energy, let's go.' And guys responded to that and we pulled away."
The ensuing 21-6 run showed the Wolverines (10-4, 2-0 Big Ten) have the ability to attack at both ends, playing shutdown defense and attacking the basket with abandon.
On defense, they ended up holding Northwestern (7-8, 0-2) to just one field goal in a 9-minute span while the offense immediately out of the time-out featured three pairs of free throws, an alley-oop and another dunk.
There's no secret that, without Mitch McGary and still-growing point guards, this will be a team heavily reliant on the three-pointer to win game.
Michigan ended up shooting 22 free throws (and hitting 18) by forcing the action, led as usual by Nik Stauskas with his 18CQ points, including 6 of 8 from the free-throw line.
The deadly shooter has been forced to evolve as opponents try to take away his multidimensional game, forcing him to become more patient and diversify.
Each opponent offers a different defense and Northwestern's plan was simply to contain him, instead of denying him the catch. That meant Stauskas needed to pass the ball a bit (four assists), rebound (four boards) and still step back to hit a pair of three-pointers.
"I like doing everything on the floor, a little bit of rebounding, a little bit of passing, scoring, too," he said. "Whatever this team needs me to do."
In the first half, Northwestern was leaning on its lone scoring option, Drew Crawford, and he delivered with 13 points, more than a few with Stauskas trying to defend him. But patience paid off again as Crawford eventually faded, having to carry too much of a load.
"What happens, as the game wears on, he gets a little bit worn out," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said after watching Crawford score only one basket in the second half. "We're expecting him to score all the points, get all the rebounds, defend Stauskas and do everything and that takes a toll on you physically. We're going to need some other guys to step up."
Michigan has a bit more depth - Glenn Robinson III returned from his ankle injury to score 12 and freshman guard Derrick Walton added 11 - but knows it can't wait for the hammer every game.
"It's just a maturity thing, recognizing the flow of the game and when we have that momentum and pushing it out a little bit more," U-M center Jordan Morgan said.
Contact Mark Snyder: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@mark__snyder.